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Archive for May, 2010

Great news! Our little corner of Upper Bucks County seems to be beyond the reach of frosty nights until fall. That’s right, our last expected frost date is May 15 around these parts. I might have just jinxed it, but we gotta talk transplanting.

So hopefully all of you have followed the directions in our first post, and now your windowsills and newly-built coldframes are full of little tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, and all those other yummies that would quickly perish in cold weather. If they have at least one set of true leaves, the seedlings are ready for the next stage of life. Here’s what to do with them:

Hardening off seedlings on the porch

Step 1: Hardening Off

If they’ve been started indoors, those seedlings have led a very sheltered life thus far. They’ve never felt a northwestern wind, a driving rain, or the full force of a sunny day. Experiencing all of these new sensations can sometimes be quite a shock. Take care of your young ones and ease them into the elements. You can start indoors by opening the windows or putting a gentle fan on them or even jiggling the table they’re on. This kind of movement will encourage the seedlings to grow the sturdy stems necessary for life in the great outdoors.

A warm, cloudy day is the best time to expose them to the outside world. Place them in the shade, where they’ll be sheltered from strong winds. This first day they should only be out for a few hours. Gradually, over the course of a week, the length of time they’re left outside, as well as their exposure to full sunlight, is increased, until they are macho enough to be out day and night. After acclimating to nighttime temps, they should be ready to go in the ground.

Step 2: Transplanting

So hopefully while the little guys have been hardening off, you’ve been thinking up the best spot for them to live and prepared a bed for them. Depending on the plants’ needs, that might mean loosening the soil or mixing in organic matter, so the roots can start growing deep and strong as soon as they’re put in the ground. To avoid baking your tender transplants, choose a cloudy day or evening. We like to go on transplanting binges before rain, so the roots can get watered in nice and deep.

Hold like so, & tap the pot until the root ball releases

When you’ve figured out the best spot and spacing for the plant, cut a hole with a trowel into the soil, carefully release the seedling from the container, and place it into the earth, disturbing the roots as little as possible. It is well known that tomatoes can be transplanted deeper than the original soil line – they will send out roots at any point on their stem. Some research has shown that peppers and brassicas (cabbage family) can be planted a little deeper, but if in doubt, transplant to the original soil line. Fill in any gaps in the hole and pat the dirt around the roots, making sure the plant isn’t sunken below, or mounded above the soil level. Then, water your transplants deeply, promoting good contact between the roots and soil.

Step 3: Tending the Transplants

Keep your transplants well-watered for the first week or so. This will buffer them against shock and guard against withering in the hot sun. Some plants, like sweet potatoes, benefit greatly from some protection from direct sun at first. One trick is to cut the bottoms off of plastic pots and put them over  the plants for a few days. Let the transplants focus on root development for a couple of weeks before adding any manure or other nitrogenous fertilizer. Then just keep an eye on the weeds and water occasionally, and wait for the harvest!

Red Express cabbages in the great outdoors

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As you might have discerned from the lack of blogging, Lee and I have been particularly busy lately. Part of the reason is that we’ve been tending our new farm away from home. Truth be told, Lunaria is little more than a swampy yard of heavy clay with some spots of fleeting sunlight. So we felt like some lucky ducks when we found out that we were given the use of a sunny plot of land up the street! This corner garden was worked and loved for decades by a special woman named Helen Nast, providing the neighborhood with plenty of fresh food and flowers. We’re grateful to be able to continue that tradition and honor her legacy.

Unfortunately, in Helen’s later years, the garden was left untended, and grass has taken over, obscuring any clues to the original garden plan. Racing against rainy weather, we’ve spent days battling that stubborn turf, using a combination of hand digging, sheet mulching, tarp killing, and rototilling. We even have plans for some squash strangling for the real tall stuff. We were able to carve out enough beds to get some potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and jalepeños in the ground.

Lee finishing the poultry tractor

Constant farm tasks have met us on the home front, too. In another attempt to rid our hens of lice, we sprayed each of them generously with orange oil, and then watched as they wobbled away high and briefly disabled. We built Poultry Tractor 2.0, into which we tried to assimilate the lately-separated chicks and ducklings, but the larger ducks turned out to be bullies. We also received about 300 blueberry, strawberry, asparagus, rhubarb, brassica, and tomato plants that we’re still catching up with.

On Monday, after a sonorous thunderstorm that kept us up half the night, Lunaria farm had a particularly trying morning. The duck tractor proved to not be entirely watertight, and their heat lamp had shorted out at some point. The upper level nest box area of the chicken tractor had collapsed, and the hens laid their eggs in their food. Despite our fencing, a groundhog had gotten into the greens garden and eaten half the lettuce and some of the cauliflower. When I went up the road to the corner garden, I found that our rototilling methods hadn’t accounted for the necessities of drainage, and the paths between our rows were flooded with 6 inches of water. I planted 100 tomato plants in the mud while Lee dug a trench to sink a groundhog-proof fence into. Then it started raining again.

We were ready for some coffee. Just about every day, Lee and I have a “business meeting,” when, for few minutes, we discuss priorities. But it’s really just an excuse to sit down and drink coffee. This time, feeling as dampened as we were, Lee suggested that we start out by making a list of things we were stoked about. Here’s a summary:

blueberries are in the ground!

we have kombucha brewing!

happy ducks!

healthy chicks!

5 eggs every day!

we’re farming the neighbor’s unused sunny garden!

we harvested pretty radishes!

all the healthy, free plants!

our fresh eggs for fresh bread exchange!

200 Roma tomatoes!

rain!

safety-first Lee & get-her-done Kristen are a perfect match!

we have a new french press!

we got some gigs playing music!

Needless to say, we both felt a lot better after recounting only a few of our blessings. The universe will continue to provide, and we’ll go on being grateful. We highly recommend opening with a stoked list before your own business meeting, or just as a way to perk up a dreary day.

Enjoy some recent photos!

Duckling cuddle-puddle, before their move outdoors

Art by Joyce Murphy (pictured, right) and Sheena Mae Allen (on wall) at RAT Gallery Opening, 5/1/10

Frogs in the pond

Bird found dead in the radish bed, any idea what kind?

Magic hour sky at Lunaria

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